Blue bag express

A deeper look at Terrace's first year of curbside recycling

City worker Marco Qualizza out on his beat one dark winter morning.

It’s still dark on a winter’s morning when Marco Qualizza sets out for his recycling run from the city’s public works building on Graham.

By early afternoon he will have hand-bombed bags totalling about 2,000 kilograms of paper, plastic packaging and other material into the hopper of his garbage truck and will haul it to Thornhill where it will be unloaded at the Do Your Part transfer station where it will be bundled up for shipping to the lower mainland for eventual sorting.

In the early days of the city’s recycling program last spring, I was one of those Marco caught. I had my bags labelled with stickers about what I should have not included. Those bags were then left rejected on the curb.

But what I have not done is attempt to stash other garbage in my recycling, a nasty trick Marco sees regularly.

“You get people trying to sneak in like food and stuff,” he says, speaking loud over the blaring radio music in his hopper. “They come out and say ‘oh why can’t you take that?’ and I say ‘ah, because garbage isn’t recyclable.’”

There’s no need for you, like me, to feel guilty about the seemingly unmanageable mix of household packaging that ends up in his biweekly bags – the toilet paper tubes, the wax-coated chocolate boxes, the odd bits of plastic.

City planner Tara Irwin tells me it’s all good, the automated machinery in the recycling terminals down south, where all this ends up, are incredible. The various shreds of random material are sifted, magnetized out, sorted with minimal human intervention.

Still, the logic about what can be recycled and what is treated as garbage is confusing.

 

 

 

A quick recap: yes to empty whipping cream spray cans, yes to used waxy cups, but no to plastic juice containers and no to plastic bags, even though both are taken at my local grocery store.

It all has to do with the companies behind the new provincial recycling system. Multi-Material BC (MMBC) is a private venture financed by big time producers of packaging and other material, such as fast food cups. But when it comes to items like juice containers there is already a system called “extended user responsibility” financed by deposits paid by consumers at the till. Other items, like Styrofoam and soft plastics don’t process well in the main sorting machines.

MMBC pays for the program with money from these manufacturers based on how much packaging they produce. I have always wondered if this translates into higher prices for the products themselves. A representative of MMBC told me it would be a percentage of a penny per product purchase.

Back on ground level, Marco tells me his collection job is a huge work-out.

“It’s great cardio jumping in and out, don’t even have to go to the gym,” he laughs.

Seeing the blue bags lined up at the end of people’s driveways, the peculiarities of their food tastes is apparent. There is one household that apparently loves a hot broth: the plastic bags are full of nothing but tin soup cans.

Another household has used black plastic bags, and Marco doesn’t touch it.

Got to be transparent bags, he says.

Lessor indiscretions about what is placed in the bags are met with some forgiveness. “Everybody makes mistakes,” he says.

Marco adds that days of hand bombing will soon be over as the city brings in a new fleet of trucks and also spends almost half a million on special plastic garbage containers for each household that will have wheels and be part of an automatic loading system.

All this will translate into higher garbage fees paid by city residents.

According to Marco, his largest hauls of recycled material comes from the Bench and Horseshoe areas.

The Southside recycles the least, he notes. “Yesterday my load was 1,300 kilograms for the Southside and I usually get over 1,500 on the Bench and in the Horseshoe,” he said the day I accompanied him.

In total so far, since the service began in May 2014, Terrace has recycled 233,485 kg of material. MMBC pays Terrace $134,000  to recycle products on top of what residents already pay and Irwin said the city is staying on budget. A system of fines should the city deliver too much material which can’t be recycled won’t kick in until later this year. Right now, many residents still put in Styrofoam and soft plastics which aren’t allowed and that will eventually lead to fines.

Irwin said the city hopes MMBC will open a depot for the area soon to make it easier for residents to dispose of glass and other material. City crews have been picking up glass once a month. Irwin estimates only about one-third of Terrace households currently recycle glass.